A neuroanatomical model of prefrontal inhibitory modulation of memory retrieval

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 May;36(5):1382-99. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.02.012. Epub 2012 Feb 25.


Memory of past experience is essential for guiding goal-related behavior. Being able to control accessibility of memory through modulation of retrieval enables humans to flexibly adapt to their environment. Understanding the specific neural pathways of how this control is achieved has largely eluded cognitive neuroscience. Accordingly, in the current paper I review literature that examines the overt control over retrieval in order to reduce accessibility. I first introduce three hypotheses of inhibition of retrieval. These hypotheses involve: (i) attending to other stimuli as a form of diversionary attention, (ii) inhibiting the specific individual neural representation of the memory, and (iii) inhibiting the hippocampus and retrieval process more generally to prevent reactivation of the representation. I then analyze literature taken from the White Bear Suppression, Directed Forgetting and Think/No-Think tasks to provide evidence for these hypotheses. Finally, a neuroanatomical model is developed to indicate three pathways from PFC to the hippocampal complex that support inhibition of memory retrieval. Describing these neural pathways increases our understanding of control over memory in general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain Mapping / psychology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*